Clueless City Planners in Sacramento Eye SAC Exec

Editor’s Note: Read on. City Planners in Sacramento obviously don’t understand the noise and safety issues of mixing homes close to airports, which makes one wonder how qualified they actually are.

Monday, April 17, 2006
A view from the air
City considers homes, offices to replace airport
By Mike McCarthy
The Sacramento (CA) Business Journal

Sacramento city planners are eyeing Executive Airport as a growth area for future homes, stores and offices. The 540-acre airport, leased by the city to the Sacramento County Airport System for $1 a year, could hold thousands of homes. It could also become the big job center that the south city lacks. But the county plans to continue operating the small-aircraft airport and is about to start a master plan for its future.

Staff in the city’s Development Services Department have suggested marking the airport for development as part of the update of the city’s general plan. The update will look at growth policies through 2030, said Steve Peterson, the department’s long-range planning manager.

The city is expected to grow by 200,000 people and 140,000 jobs during the next quarter-century.

“Our vision is for Sacramento to be the most livable city in America,” Peterson said. “We’re trying to identify and put together choices for the public and decision-makers, and we want to do smart growth.”

Smart-growth means mixing types of higher-density development — including homes and workplaces — near transit to encourage walking and reduce vehicle use. There is a light-rail station near the airport, but development is restricted because of air traffic, he said.

More importantly, he added, the airport land has “huge economic development potential.” The land is worth at least $220 million if it could be developed, he said.

Property and sales-tax revenue to the city also would be impressive, as is the potential for office space for better-paying jobs.

For example, 500,000 square feet of offices could be built on 50 acres, said industry sources. And about 5,000 homes could be built on the airport land, assuming an average density of 10 units per acre, estimated a city planner.

Developers are already short of land in the city, and would be interested in the site, which includes a vista of adjoining Bing Maloney Golf Course. “It’s a significant development opportunity for the city that needs to be weighed against the benefits of the airport,” Peterson, the city’s long-range planner, said.

Planning staff is not recommending that the airport be closed, just presenting the idea, he stressed.

The county has been operating the general aviation airport since 1967, and wants to keep it.

“We’re pleased with the airport and are kicking off a master plan for 20 years into the future,” said Rob Leonard, the Airport System’s chief operating officer. “We value Executive Airport. It plays a vital role in the county system and we’re not planning to communicate that we want out of the lease.”

The airport handles small commercial and personal airplanes, traffic that would be harder to manage at the county’s larger Mather Airport or Sacramento International Airport.

About 45,000 passengers used the airport in 2002, more than double the passenger traffic at Mather Field, according to the county. Among other things, Executive Airport houses 30 businesses. The airport handles medical delivery and evacuations, and is used by some of the state’s aircraft fleet, as well as two television traffic helicopters.

Airport businesses shocked

Owners of some of the airport’s businesses were stunned by the idea of closure.

“We’ve had our business here since 1968. It would be a big change for us,” said Janice Nelson-Hidalgo, owner of American Aerial Mapping. “I wouldn’t think it would be good for my business.”

Her company is one of three aerial mapping operations at the airport. “I just don’t think it would be a good idea to push out an airport that’s been here so long,” she said.

She added that housing in the area is rundown, so there’s no reason to assume new housing would do better.

Closing Executive would threaten another longtime airport business, Airborne Electronics, and the livelihood of the three families it supports, said Nat Kiesz, co-owner of Airborne’s parent, Air Inc.

“The airport’s closing has been a political football kicked back and forth for 40 years,” he said. “It’s been brought up at least three times by politicians who have no better sense than to turn it into real estate.”

Carol Radman, owner of Radman Aerial Surveys, agreed with the others. She added the county spent money on new hangars not too long ago. “Where would the businesses go?” she said.

Leonard’s department suggested in the early 1990s that Executive Airport be phased out, but the county Board of Supervisors and Sacramento’s City Council nixed the idea, he said.

“But this is a city land-use decision,” Leonard said. “The city has a choice to make between its planning and aviation futures.”

The lease on the property must be renewed annually.

Other possible growth areas

Peterson’s group is also looking at developing about 100 acres the city owns adjacent to Arco Arena. The tract could become higher-density housing and mixed uses, in keeping with smart-growth ideas.

Also in the planners’ sights for possible annexation and development are 3,000 acres south of the Rosemont area along the Jackson Highway. Much of that land is owned by the Teichert conglomerate of construction and development companies. Teichert is mining a portion of the land and has completed gravel mining on other sections, said Randy Sater, president of Stonebridge Properties, a subsidiary of Teichert Land Co.

He said he sees annexation as an opportunity for the company. And he agrees that mixed-use is best. Sater is a prominent smart-growth advocate.

He expects that Teichert will continue processing aggregate, ready-mix, asphalt and concrete on up to 150 acres in order to supply future growth in the area, he said.

City long-range planner Peterson said he also is looking at annexation of some 5,000 acres in North Natomas’ Joint Vision area, the tract that the city and county have agreed will be annexed to the city. Up to 40,000 homes may be built there, he estimated.

Peterson said the general plan ideas will be presented at town forums starting in June. The plan should be completed in early 2008.

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